Features & guest posts
What makes a great food blog?
So many people are blogging about food these days so how do you stand out from the crowd? This weekend’s sessions at Food Blogger Connect - and my own observations - suggest a few answers.
What do the best blogs have in common? Your blog can’t be all things to all people - if you’re serious and scholarly your text won’t be peppered with smart one-liners. If it’s based on your life at home with small children it won’t be filled with exotic foreign trips.
Taking it for granted that your blog looks good and that your recipes work (er hem . . .) here are some qualities I reckon a blog needs to attract a big audience. You can’t embrace all of them but if you’re ambitious for your blog you should take on board at least some:
Perhaps the most important thing I took away from Food Blogger Connect is that the best blogs tell great stories. Two presentations drove it home - a talk from Niamh Shields where she had to extemporise when her audio visual presentation wouldn’t work so she simply stood up and chatted about the quirky things she’d come across on her recent trip to Canada. (When the technical issues were resolved her presentation was just as good - and that’s what makes her blog, Eat Like a Girl, so strong)
And Penny de los Santos*, a journalist-turned-photographer who tells powerful stories with her pictures. She tells equally mesmerising tales about taking them, such as the time she spent nine days inside a prison in Mexico and the struggle she had to get the authorities to let her in.
What has this got to do with food? Everything. Tell the story behind the recipe you’re sharing. There a hundreds of thousands of cake recipes out there. If you post one make it clear why it’s special to you.
An over-used word. We’re all passionate about food but can we convey it in a distinctive way? The best food blogs can. They make you want to cook the food, eat at the restaurant, visit the place. They do not shriek OMG!, YUMMY!!! and - God forbid - nom, nom, nom. Read Helen Graves’ blog Food Stories if you want to see passion applied to an unlikely place, the south London neighbourhood of Peckham.
The best food blogs are not littered with giveaways, blogger challenges and accounts of blogger events. That’s not to say don’t do them if you enjoy them - I offer a monthly prize on my site, come to that - but to write about something that a dozen other bloggers are covering is not going to make you unique. Yes, you’re right, newspapers and magazines do it too - the world is PR led - but it doesn’t make for great journalism any more than great blogging.
It’s your movie, don’t be in someone else’s . . . (My husband’s favourite piece of advice to the children.)
Good blogs radiate know-how even though they may pass it on in an accessible, easy-to-read way. David Lebovitz knows Paris (and pastry), Giulia Scarpaleggia of Juls Kitchen, Tuscany and, an interesting new find, Michael Kiser of Good Beer Hunting, beer (of course). When you’ve read their posts you’ve learnt something. If you aren’t a natural extrovert draw people to your blog by researching your subject as well as you can.
In other words a willingness to stick your head above the parapet. Don’t try and be all things to all people. Don’t be afraid to ruffle feathers. I don’t mean of course that your blog should be gratuitously offensive but don’t let it become bland.
There’s absolutely no harm in expressing a controversial viewpoint and expressing it vigorously, a stock in trade of the exuberant Ms Marmitelover and the lesser known Jack Monroe of A Girl Called Jack, a young blogger who’s made an immense impact in a very short time. She was invited to the G8 to talk about living on the breadline, for goodness sake.
This might sound surprising but it was a point made by David Lebovitz and he made it well. Don’t feel your blog - and especially your pictures - have to be perfect. Admit those recipes that went wrong, snap those plates you were half way through eating when you remembered you were supposed to shoot them. Your audience will identify with that and love you for it.
Some people bare their souls more than others. If it doesn’t suit you, don’t but what keeps on making me come back to certain blogs is their frankness and honesty. Two examples: Esther Walker’s Recipe Rifle which I suppose is not strictly a food blog but a mummy blog and Emma Gardner’s sometimes painfully revealing Poires au Chocolat although this has other virtues too - including beautiful, original photography and painstakingly tested recipes.
Respected food bloggers acknowledge their sources and inspiration. They do not nick recipes without attribution. They praise other cooks and writers, especially up-and-coming ones. They acknowledge and reply to their readers (unless they’re rude and arsey in which case they stamp firmly all over them).
Not everyone has the ability to make people laugh and if it doesn’t come easily don’t force it but the most effective food blogs for me are the ones who make me smile. Often at the author’s own expense. Again, look at the blogs I’ve mentioned already, David Lebovitz, Eat Like A Girl, Ms Marmitelover, Recipe Rifle and, a wine blog you might enjoy - the award-winning Knackered Mother’s Wine Club - a great example of what you can do with short posts.
Discipline might sound an odd word to use of a food blog - maybe professionalism would be better - but the top bloggers post regularly. Not tooo regularly but at least once a week. That requires forward planning if posts are not to be a hastily cobbled together scrawl (an art form in which I specialise). More on this tomorrow . . .
If you missed my first post in this mini-series (goodness knows what possessed me to embark on this) on What Motivates Food Bloggers, it’s here. Tomorrow the practical steps you - and I - can take to make our blogs and websites better. Should you want to . . .
What do you think makes a great food blog and which ones would you single out?
* You can also see her expound her philosophy in this TEDx talk in Austin.
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